When I think about God, I tend to think of him first and foremost as Master and King. I think about his right to command my obedience, and I think about my obligation to obey his commands. I know, of course, that Jesus obeyed God perfectly on my behalf and has clothed me with his righteousness. But I also know that imputed righteousness always produces personal righteousness. I realize that faith in Jesus is the only way to be saved. But I also realize that faith without works is dead. Obedience matters. Works matter. God is still Master and King—even for Christians, like me.
But is this who God primarily is for Christians, like me? When he looks upon those who hope in Jesus, does he feel merely what a king might feel toward his subjects? The Bible tells us that God takes pleasure in his people (Ps. 149:4). He loves them with great love (Eph. 2:4). He rejoices over them with loud singing (Zeph. 3:17). He delights to do them good (Jer. 32:41). He cares for them (1 Pet. 5:7). Are these the ways that a master relates to his servants? No! These are ways that a father relates to his children!
God is more than our Master. He is more than our King. He is, above all other titles and roles, our Father.
When you struggle like I do to really feel this truth—that God’s primary disposition toward you is not masterly or kingly but fatherly—it can also be difficult to believe that the salvation he offers you is as free and complete as it actually is. A King would never do for his (disloyal!) subjects what God has done for you in Jesus. A Master would never suffer for his (traitorous!) servants to the extent that the triune God has suffered for you. “It’s too good to be true,” you think to yourself, even if subconsciously. You profess with your mouth that you are justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. And part of you really does believe this! But within your anxious heart still exists the lie that you need to work your way into God’s acceptance and love.
When you read the Bible, you tend to glance over the indicatives (or truths) of the gospel—that you are 100% accepted and loved because of what Christ has already done for you—and fixate on the imperatives (or commands) of the gospel—that you should obey, kill sin, live a life worthy of the gospel, etc. Though a deep belief in the gospel indicatives is supposed to be the power by which you perform the gospel imperatives, you come at it all backwards. Instead of putting on compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience because you are already chosen, holy, and beloved (Col. 3:12), you labor to put on these things so that you will be chosen, holy, and beloved. Instead of striving for holiness because you are already accepted, you strive for holiness to be accepted. Your “obedience” is not a gratitude-driven response to God’s love for you in Christ, like it should be. It’s your attempt to earn his acceptance and love. You, like the believers in the Galatian church, are trying to justify yourself.
I keep using the pronoun “you,” but believe me when I say that I am preaching to myself! For months now my heart has been tortured by fear that God’s acceptance of me is still up in the air. I’ve felt like I won’t know for sure I’m forgiven and loved until I prove to myself (and to him) that my faith is genuine. So, I’ve been laboring and striving and toiling for months to grasp a greater sense of assurance that I am safe in the love of Christ. I’ve been doing “good works” that appear “noble” and “holy” on the surface, but they haven’t been propelled by love for God and gratitude for his grace. I’ve been driven by nothing but debilitating fear and a lack of trust that his gospel is for me, personally. My works-based pursuit of God’s love has left me spiritually depleted and mentally frayed.
But praise God that his love for me is sure even when I’m uncertain of it! Though he allows me at times to stray from the gospel in fear and unbelief, and though he allows Satan to play whatever role he has in all this mess, God is always faithful to woo me back to the rest and freedom he’s given me in Jesus. Over these last few weeks, he has kindly reminded me that:
- He loves me not because of anything in me or any decision I’ve made, but solely because he chooses to love me.
- He predestined, called, and justified me not because of anything I did or anything he foreknew I would do, but solely according to his sovereign mercy—even my faith is a gift.
- The obedience he calls me to is birthed not out of an anxious desire to be accepted by him but out of a deep awareness that I am already accepted in Christ.
- The obedience he calls me to is not an endeavor to earn his favor but the inevitable outflow of realizing that I already have his favor in Christ.
- The obedience he calls me to is not fueled by angst and dread of his judgment but by gratitude for his great mercy and immeasurable love toward me in Christ.
I know it’s the time of year when lot of people make resolutions to do great things. But my chief resolve for 2018 is to believe great things—the great things of the extraordinary but completely true and trustworthy gospel of Jesus Christ.
“Then they said to him, ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’” – John 6:28-29
“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins . . . There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.” – 1 John 4:9-10,18-19